Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence children’s attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically. The transition from August to September can be difficult for both children and parents. Even children who are eager to return to class must adjust to the greater levels of activity, structure, and, for some, pressures associated with school life.
The degree of adjustment depends on the child, but parents can help their children (and the rest of the family) manage the increased pace of life by planning ahead, being realistic, and maintaining a positive attitude. Here are a few suggestions from experts to help ease the transition and promote a successful school experience.
Before School Starts
Good physical and mental health. Be sure your child is in good physical and mental health. Schedule doctor and dental checkups early. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your child will benefit if you can identify and begin addressing a potential issue before school starts. Schools appreciate the efforts of parents to remedy problems as soon as they are recognized.
Along those same lines. Get your child’s eyes examined. Dr. Wayne Aberle of Precision Eyez in Bismarck, says parents really should get their child’s eyes checked before school every year. 5 to 10 percent of preschoolers and 25 percent of school-aged children have vision problems. Early identification of a child’s vision problem can be crucial because children often are more responsive to treatment when problems are diagnosed early.
Parents are also surprised to find out how early their child’s first eye exam should be. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months of age. Children then should have additional eye exams at age 3, and just before they enter the first grade — at about age 5 or 6.
Review all of the information. Review the material sent by the school as soon as it arrives. These packets include important information about your child’s teacher, room number, school supply requirements, sign ups for after-school sports and activities, school calendar dates, bus transportation, health and emergency forms, and volunteer opportunities.
Mark your calendar. Make a note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights, band concerts, choir concerts, etc. This is especially important if you have children in more than one school and need to juggle obligations.
Re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines. Plan to re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines (especially breakfast) at least 1 week before school starts. Prepare your child for this change by talking with your child about the benefits of school routines in terms of not becoming over tired or overwhelmed by school work and activities. Include pre-bedtime routines and household chores if these were suspended during the summer.
Turn off the TV. Encourage your child to play quiet games, do puzzles, flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. This will help ease your child into the learning process and school routine.
Practice the safe route to school. Renae Hoffman-Walker of Bismarck Public Schools said that’s one of their main tips if a child is new to school. “Whether it’s practicing the safe route to the school, the bus route, or riding their bike. If they are riding a bike, they should be wearing helmets and know the rules of the road and bike safety.
Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes. Designate a spot for your children to place their school belongings as well as a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see. Explain that emptying their backpack each evening is part of their responsibility, even for young children.
Freeze a few easy dinners. It will be much easier on you if you have dinner prepared so that meal preparation will not add to household tensions during the first week of school. It never hurts to have some on hand throughout the year as well in case things pop up, schedules back up, things happen.
Start some new back to school traditions. Hoffman-Walker said this makes going to back to school exciting, fun, and something to loook forward to. “It can be as easy as a special family dinner or a Back to School Bash with all the neighborhood kids. Maybe even a big special “back to school” breakfast or special treat right after school so kids can tell you all about their day. Because they will be happy to tell you, even when they’re in middle school.”
Hold off buying trendy gear like lunchboxes, pencil cases, etc. Amy Jo Johnson of the ND Jumpstart Coalition said, “What your child may like in July, will change once they get to school and see what all their friends have. Then, they’ll have buyers remorse and beg for an upgrade costing you extra money.”
Hold a Back to School Swap. Johnson says it’s a great way to save money if you know moms that have kids the same gender or age as yours. “Moms can bring slightly used clothes, toys, books, school supplies like pencils, pencil boxes, folders, binders and swap the things their kids don’t want or need anymore for things they do.
Make a list for ALL back to school shopping. Jesse Tran of the Village Family Services said you get one for school supplies, but should consider expanding that to all your back to school needs. “We all know when we go in with a list we tend to stick to that list. We do it with school supplies, but we should do that with exactly what we need for clothes, socks, shoes, and underwear.”
The First Week
Clear your own schedule. You want to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine and overcome the confusion or anxiety that many children experience at the start of a new school year.
Make lunches the night before school. Older children should help or make their own. Give them the option to buy lunch in school if they prefer and finances permit.
Leave plenty of extra time. Make sure your child has plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and get to school.
After school. Review with your child what to do if he or she gets home after school and you are not there.
Review your child’s schoolbooks. Talk about what your child will be learning during the year. Share your enthusiasm for the subjects and your confidence in your child’s ability to master the content. Learning skills take time and repetition. Encourage your child to be patient, attentive, and positive.
Allow time for homework. Hoffman-Walker said there is sort of a rule of thumb when it comes to the amount of school work children have.
“There is value in homework because it reinforces skills and real world knowledge. I’ve heard kids can expect about 10 minutes of homework a night for each grade level. So students in Grade three will have about 30 min. Where as high school students can have up to two hours.”
Genders learn differently. Hoffman-Walker said, “Research has shown there is a difference between how boys and girls learn. Boys learn a lot by doing. They’re better with pictures, graphics, and physical movement. That’s how they grasp the concept. Whereas girls really benefit from talking things out or working in a group.”
Go for quality, not quantity. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Too much scheduled time can be stressful, especially for young children, and may make it harder to concentrate on schoolwork.
Select activities where you have someone with whom you can carpool. Even if you are available to drive most days, you will need backup sometimes. Choosing activities that occur on-site after school will also minimize driving.
If your child does not want to participate in regular, organized extracurricular activities, you may want to consider just giving them some time after school to blow off steam. Maybe see if there’s a place that has open gym after school or allow them to play with friends for some social interaction.
Hoffman-Walker agrees, “Research has shown that when kids come home from school it’s best for them to decompress a little bit. Relax, have a snack, and then do some physical activity. Maybe shoot some hoops and then get back to homework.